October 7th, 2020, Sharjah (UAE): Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Chairperson of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) has called on the international community to make education of refugee girls a top priority.
Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher was addressing a private, all-women virtual panel session organized ahead of the unveiling of the overall winner of the 2020 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award recently by UNHCR, titled ‘Keeping refugee women and girls safe’, to draw further attention to the challenges facing forcibly displaced women and girls, and discuss how individuals and entities across the world can contribute to protecting their rights by offering to be part of the solution.
The high-level discussions attended by Gillian Triggs, Assistant Secretary General, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, UNHCR, preceded the announcement of the overall winner of the 2020 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. This edition of the annual humanitarian prize, given to individuals, groups or organizations for outstanding work with refugees, displaced and stateless people, has for the first time in its history announced an all-women lineup of regional winners, emphasising their role as trailblazers of positive change in their societies.
Thanking the UNHCR for taking the initiative to host such an important dialogue, Her Highness said: “Educating girls and women changes the course of an entire society. Through our philanthropic and women’s support organizations, we have spared no effort to continue to offer support to refugee girls and women in every way possible. Let us continue to work on initiatives that raise awareness amongst refugee communities about the benefits of educating their girls; let us continue to strive build and rehabilitate schools for them and equip them with the needed educational tools, sustainable energy, and motivating classrooms. Most importantly, let us train and qualify female teachers who have the passion for giving back to members of their community.”
Addressing more than 70 global female leaders, the TBHF Chairperson, added: “Women and children affected by the exceptional circumstances of their societies account for the highest percentage of the global refugee population.We must all share the responsibility of educating women around the world. By supporting them with education, we elevate their potential to rebuilding their lives, actively lead their communities towards progress, and lay the foundations for building a just, equitable and sustainable future for all nations around the world.”
In her speech, Sheikh Jawaher Al Qasimi emphasized the extensive work carried out by TBHF in support of refugees worldwide, pointing out that since the establishment of TBHF in 2015, the Sharjah-based global humanitarian organization has been working relentlessly to rally support and drive efforts to improve the lives of refugees. Her Highness also noted that TBHF works by ensuring the involvement of refugees in devising strategies and plans that are aimed at improving their lives.
TBHF has met several refugee women from around the world who have shared stories of their struggles, hopes and ambitions, said Her Highness.
“TBHF’s projects have reached more than three million individuals in 24 host countries living in abject conditions due to escalating conflicts and crisis in their home countries. TBHF is expanding the range and nature of its projects every year to focus on vital areas including healthcare, education, emergency response, and elevating quality of life,” Sheikha Jawaher added.
“TBHF has supported several development projects that have provided job opportunities for many young men and women. The Foundation has also worked to increase refugee education opportunities by establishing and restoring schools and educational institutions that serve more than 18,000 students living in the affected communities. TBHF has also forged many partnerships with leading international humanitarian and charitable organizations to consolidate efforts and provide optimal support to refugees across the world, most notably the UNHCR,” concluded the UNHCR Eminent Advocate.
Listing the effects of Covid-19 on women and children as they try to survive in extremely difficult situations as displaced persons or refugees, Gillian Triggs, noted that while terrible tragedies have surrounded the pandemic, there have also been some heartening highlights. “One is that women refugees have also become frontline healthcare workers. They have been the first to take care of their families and have also gone out into their communities to assist.”
“Among the many challenges posed to women and girls during Covid-19 has been access to education. Around 1.6 billion children have not been able gained access to education from time to time over these last few months,” Triggs continued, adding, “the great fear of UNHCR is that refugee children and children in families that are displaced will have dropped out and will not return to school. That is our greatest fear and we need to work particularly hard to get these children back into school again.”
Citing that the UNHCR has seen massive increases in gender-based violence and violence against young children in families since the Covid-19 outbreak, Gillian noted, “One thing that UNHCR has been able to utilize along with its partners is remote technologies, to develop call centers and video processes to connect with families, mothers and children in ways that we have never been able to connect before.”
She urged all attendees to leverage their position as leaders and women to be advocates, and “speak up, and use our voices as clearly as we can to speak about the need for support for vulnerable women and girls in refugee and displaced communities.”
Other speakers at the high-profile event included Zaheerah Bham-Ismail, Chairperson of the Caring Women’s Forum (CWF), founding member of the Islamic Charity Network in South Africa, and a member of the Women’s Business Network of UNHCR; and Johannesburg-based UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Leanne Manas Menelaou.
The event also heard the voices of three refugee students based at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya who participated in an open session where they shared their views, ambitions, and aspirations for the future, and wholeheartedly participated in the development of sustainable educational plans for them and their peers. A young female refugee student recited a poem during the event.
Referring to these vivacious, hope-filled participants, Zaheerah Bham-Ismail, “When I look at these bright young women, I understand why we are doing what we do. These young girls talked about education and that is so close to my heart because if there is one way, we want to make an impact, change generations, change lives, that is going to be through education. It is a gift of sustainability, it’s a way to ensure that the girls are not sitting back at home but are being given a chance to be able to move forward within their lives, no matter where they go.”
She added: “Women who come from backgrounds like ours, who live lives just as comfortable as ours before going into these refugee camps, and not just for short periods of time – from the statistics that we see, some continue to live in these camps for 25 years or more; it becomes a lifetime of staying in these camps. If we don’t join together to be able to impact the lives of these very women who are our sisters, then our lives become meaningless.”
“This is about giving hope and dignity to others,” Bham-Ismail continued emphasizing that women leaders, individuals, institutions, governments, all have a crucial role to play in laying the platform on which women and girls would walk on, knowing that “you stood there and opened the path for them.”
Among the most prominent attendees and participants in the event included HE Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development; HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud AlSaud, Secretary General and member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies; HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, UNHCR Patron; Sheikha Azza Al Sabah, Founder of Al Sidra Association for Psychological Care of Cancer Patients; HH Sheikha Jawaher Bint Khalifa Al Khalifa, Chairperson, Sheikha Jawaher Al Khalifa Foundation for Youth Empowerment; Jacqueline Fuller, VP, Google and President of Google.org; Helena Helmersson, CEO, H&M Group; Reeta Roy, President & CEO of MasterCard Foundation; and Jin Song, President, Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, in addition to an elite group of leading business women from the local and international arenas.
According to a United Nations report, the percentage of refugee girls receiving elementary education is below 23% compared to 84% globally while those receiving higher education are estimated to be around 1% compared to 34% worldwide. The report also revealed that a high percentage of refugees who do not receive education reside in low- and middle-income communities, which makes international support a key factor in advancing refugee education.